The Drama of The Perito Moreno Glacier.
Flying into El Calafate is a good way to appreciate the vast empty space that covers the bottom tip of the continent. Patagonia: a barren, windy expanse of dusty bleakness punctuated by the contrast of glistening lakes and volcanic hills. El Calafate is the base town for the nearby Glaciers. They have formed over millennia from Andean ice fields being compacted and flowing towards the channels of Lake Argentina. There´s one road in and one road out…. and not much else for hundreds of miles until the bottom of the continent. Lago Argentina is a stunning emerald green colour (apparently caused by minerals in the water) and its framed by more dramatic peaks.
As we set sail for a day of glacier-hunting, the air has a really crunchy chill to it and the wind rips right through you, we are not used to this kind of cold now! Soon the boat is expertly dodging blue-hued icebergs which have broken off the glaciers. Winding around the lakes channels we arrive at one awesome glacier after another. Some have front walls which tower above us, and some stretch back for miles and miles, but the unique thing is that they all flow right into the lake. Later we get off the boat and walk through a forest to reach the spectacle of “Lago Onelli” (sounds like an Irish pub!): chock a block with icebergs bobbing up and down. It appears to be a famous place for Argentines to strip off as we see several groups strip down to their undies for freezing photos.
After seeing all this we weren´t prepared for what was to come the next day: the grandfather of all glaciers, the Perito Moreno. It´s up to 200 feet high and covers 76 sq miles. The sight of this just made everything we have seen so far pale into insignificance. An enormous river of ice, wedged between dark peaks, it gives the impression its coming straight for you! The ice is packed so tightly it has been forced up into jagged turrets, like some kind of Disney ice palace. Suddenly there is a deafening crack and a thunderous bellow as a huge chunk of ice breaks off and crashes into the lake below, it really gives you that neck-hair tingling sensation. This happens every few minutes and is caused by pressure from the channel of water surrounding the front wall. It´s one of the most active glaciers on the planet.
Obviously this kind of awe inspiring stuff is a major pulling card for tourists. Scores of rich, fur coated Argentines arrive by the coach load. Most of them stand around sipping their “Maté”- the local drink which appears to be a national obsession. Its made from a herb/leaf similar to tea which they crush in a little wooden pot, pour hot water over, and then sip through a wooden straw type thing. It´s like the strongest, most disgusting tea you can imagine – and I´m usually a lover of all teas! Wherever the Argentine goes, his maté and his flask goes with him.. be it to the beach, hiking in the mountains, shopping, the park or even to watch bits falling off a glacier! I reckon Argentina must have highest flask sales in the world.
We are now in Santiago for one day before flying to Rio. At last some heat! We will be going back to Argentina later in the trip though, not least because every single European or American man we have met so far has been unable to stop gushing to Jason about how totally beautiful the women of Buenos Aires are! What about the men? I ask… but they have never noticed..